Saturday, April 16, 2011

Harissa-spiced lamb fillet with roasted beetroot puree and quince sauce

I don't usually do cheffy-style plating of my dishes at home; mostly because I'm not a chef, and I like to leave that sort of thing to the experts. Mine never look quite as good! 
But I must have been inspired by a couple of dishes I've eaten recently at events, involving beetroot puree. It is such a pretty thing on a plate, with its gorgeous bright purple colour, and I love the earthy flavour. So I had a little play, and came up with this recipe for tonight's dinner. The earthiness of the beetroot is really brought out by roasting them before pureeing, and it complements the spicy lamb really beautifully. The quince sauce was inspired by my recent endeavours with kilos and kilos of quinces; it makes a tangy, sweetish sauce that brings everything together pretty well, if I do say so myself. 
I served this with some of our second suprise crop of Maori potatoes; we thought we had harvested them all months ago, only to discover a whole lot more lovely wee gems hiding under the soil last weekend. Bonus! They are creamy, flavoursome little nuggets that even I - not a big potato lover - think are fabulous. But you could serve with any spuds. It strikes me this whole thing would work really well using duck breast, too. 

Harissa-spiced lamb fillet with roasted beetroot puree and quince sauce

2 x 200g lamb loin fillets (I used Silver Fern Farms) 
1 teaspoon harissa paste (I used Alexandra's) 
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 medium beetroots, washed and halved
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons hot water
1 cup beef or chicken stock
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon quince paste
small knob butter
Green beans & potatoes to serve

Preheat the oven to 200C. 

Combine harissa paste and olive oil in a shallow dish. Add lamb fillets and coat with mixture. Set aside. 
Place the beetroot in an oven-proof dish and roast for about 40 minutes, until tender. Remove from the oven and cool. Puree using a blender, adding olive oil and water to make a smooth puree. Set aside. 
While beetroot is roasting, combine stock and wine in a pot over a medium heat, Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes or until reduced to about 1/3 of the original volume. Add quince paste and stir through until dissolved. REmove from heat and set aside. 
Heat a griddle pan or barbecue grill to hot. Cook lamb fillets for about 3 minutes on each sire, or until done to your liking. Rest for 5 minutes, then slice into diagonal slices. 
Reheat sauce, adding butter and stirring through. Warm beetroot puree in microwave or over a low heat on the stove. Place a smear of beetroot puree on each plate, place lamb on top and drizzle with quince sauce. Serve with green beans (or another green vege of your choice) and small potatoes. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sydney on the side

The best things I ate in Sydney last week were the side dishes. These are the ones I can’t stop thinking about. Considering some of the places I ate, that seems a little weird, but there it is. Maybe it’s because the side dishes are often the ones us non-chefs have a chance of re-creating.

The first dish to be photographed (which I consider normal restaurant behaviour these days, but some of my dining companions thought was hilarious) was a tapas dish at Bodega in Surry Hills.  ‘Salad of fried cauliflower, chickpeas and silverbeet’ sounds so plain on a menu, but this was so delicious that we ordered another plate of it. I’m a huge fan of the humble cauli, especially when fried or roasted so the edges go crispy and caramelised. This was tossed in quite a lot of olive oil, which no doubt enhanced its flavour. It instantly reminded me of another fabulous cauliflower dish I enjoyed at Melbourne’s Cumulus.Inc, which also had fried cauliflower, served spiced with goats’ curd. These are both lovely, simple dishes, and absolutely delicious. See my version below, destined to be a winter favourite for me. 

 The second standout side was at Toko, also in Surry Hills. This is a super-stylish space, full of buzz, and apparently also a celebrity hangout, although if there were any there on the Friday lunchtime we visited they were b-grade Aussie ones I didn’t recognise.

Anyway, there was no need to be gazing round in search of celebs when the food put on such an amazing show. Everything we ate here was sensational: the soft-shell crab with wasbi mayonnaise, the duck with sancho pepper and marinated nashi, even the edamame in a super-moreish chilli sauce. But my favourite was dengaku nasu; enigmatically described as ‘eggplant with sweet miso’. It looked like something that shouldn’t be eaten; like it had been varnished and could be used as a table decoration. Digging into it though, we discovered meltingly soft, creamy, roasted flesh, topped with a sweet, savoury miso paste/glaze – quite hard to describe, but very, very easy to eat. I’m working on how to do this one – if anyone has any bright ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Finally I had a fabulous dinner at Rockpool Bar & Grill with my friend Kirsten. This is an absolutely stunning space, very ‘Sydney’, in an old deco bank building in the CBD. It was absolutely packed (apparently the recession has not hit Australia). 

My favourite thing about this dinner was actually the gorgeous company. But my second favourite thing was the very simple salad of green beans ‘with creamy anchovy, chilli and lemon dressing and toasted almonds’. The description pretty much tells you what it was, although I’d love to know what exactly was in that dressing. Again, I’m working on it. It went beautifully with my seared king prawns with goats’ cheese tortellini, burnt butter and pine nuts. And Kirsten’s lobster thermidor.

Warm spiced cauliflower salad

Serves 4

1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Spray oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cups silver beet leaves, stalks discarded
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons crumbled goats’ feta
Salt & pepper to taste

Step 1 Preheat the oven to 200C. Put the cauliflower and chickpeas on an oven tray , spray with oil and sprinkle with cumin, tossing to coat. Roast for 20-30 minutes, until cauliflower is browned and tender, with some crispy dark brown edges.

Step 2 Blanch or microwave silver beet for 1-2 minutes, until tender.

Step 3 Combine cauliflower, chickpeas, silver beet and olive oil in a large bowl. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving plate and sprinkle over goats’ cheese.